Archive for the ‘mental illness’ Tag

A Bipolar Perspective: Eat Your Froot Loops   Leave a comment

JOB INSECURITY

There is nothing like going back to the office after you’ve just had to take a week off due to a manic shopping spree followed by several days of suicidal depression.   Even if you managed to have your meltdown outside the workplace, you still have to let management know why you suddenly fell off the grid.

In your mind, no matter how understanding they seem, you are forever marked as a Bipolar firecracker that can go off anytime, dramatically jerking, flinching and angrily sputtering out vile insults to potential and existing clients.   And although you can not be fired for having Bipolar Disorder under The Federal Employees with Disabilities Act, management will start talking to you in calibrated calmer tones so you don’t have a sudden freak-out and assign all future stressful assignments to the receptionist.

ONE PILL SHORT OF A FULL PRESCRIPTION

Moreover, although management pledged to keep this to themselves, when walking into the office on your first day back from “sick in the head” leave, you smack right into The Great Wall of Rumors.   And unlike The Great Wall in China, there isn’t a Starbucks at the end for your co-workers to enjoy.  It seems everyone knows bits and pieces of your ordeal. Furthermore, embellished tales of you in a straight jacket and a padded room have rounded things out.  But nobody will acknowledge you were ever even gone, although you’re forever labeled as one pill short of a full prescription.

BOTTOM OF THE BARREL

This same scenario can play out in other areas of your life with Bipolar Disorder.   The quickest way to distance yourself from a long time friend is to tell them you are Bipolar and on medication.  If they are closed-minded,  the words “mental disorder” and “medication” will earn you the same respect as saying you are sexually interested in young boys.  To them, “You’re not right in the head.   You need medication to keep you from becoming a monster.  You are not the person they thought you were.”   In their brain that never breaks wind, your entire history together needs to be re-examined.

Basically just like in the workplace, you’ve suffered a loss of dignity.   There is nothing dignified about mental illness.   With cancer you are a hero every day you fight to stay alive.  A Quadriplegic in a wheel chair is courageous for carrying on with such a pronounced disability.   Even those with brain damage caused by an accident or stroke are looked upon with sympathy and hope.  But if you have Bipolar Disorder, you’re just an emotional mess taking a handful of psych-meds to keep a handle on your compulsions, since you lack the ability to control them on your own.   Bipolar Disease is among the bottom of the barrel in regard to human afflictions.  You can’t even make gravy out of it.

AGING WITH INDIGNITY

One of the nicest comments I ever received was from a girl working in a coffee shop in my neighborhood.   Somehow we got on the topic of age, and I mentioned I was 46.  She was surprised, as she thought I was in my late 30’s, and commented I was “aging gracefully.”  I was flattered.   For a moment I was Steve McQueen.

What she didn’t know is that I am Bipolar, and sometimes feel as if  I am actually “aging with indignity.”   Maybe you can’t see it on the outside, but inside my cranium my brain in being pushed around in a wheel chair wearing a food stained bib and hospital gown begging for its meds.

Those who know me have seen my life go from right on track to me having to hit the “start over” button.  Many have seen my rocky slide from owner to renter, and whether it’s true, partially-true or not at all, attribute it to my Bipolar Disorder.  It’s impossible to simply “screw up” with this disorder.   Accidentally slice your finger cooking dinner?  “He’s a cutter!  Hold him down!  I’ll get the spit mask!  Someone call 911!  Hello, Rampart? Yes, I’ll start two CC’s of Ringers Lactate.”

THE AMISH METHOD

I can’t change who I am or the fact that I basically dumped my life in a Cuisinart and hit “chop” during several bouts of mania and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  Moreover, almost everyone I know has some inkling that something in my life has not gone quite right, if not being privy to the whole disturbing tale.

This is why the only thing I can think to do is adhere to the “Amish Method” of coping.   I figuratively tumble through life ignoring all the cars cutting me off in my horse and buggy and people jumping out trying to tip it over.   Because if I ruminate on how bad it sucks to be stuck in the 1800’s in the 21st Century,  I’ll never get out of bed in the morning.  So I live my life as if everything is status quo and I like getting some teat action at four in the morning.  I can’t stop to think about the time I was hauled off to the psychiatric ward in an ambulance in front of my entire neighborhood. The sheer humiliation will cause me to melt into a puddle of Prozac.  I was drunk, depressed and mentioned suicide.  Did the driver have to flash the lights and sound the siren?  I wasn’t dying.  At least not physically.

TURDS UNDER THE CARPET

If you are suffering from Bipolar Disorder, you are going to have turds under the carpet.   The less turds the luckier you are.   The more turds and you’ve probably dealt with a lot of shit in your life.   But we’ve all got a few hidden kernels.   It’s how you manage them that will make the difference in how you relate to the world.  And, how the world relates to you.

FROOT LOOPS

My solution is to start-off each morning with a big heaping bowl of Froot Loops.   I love the irony in it.  It helps put everything into perspective.   Also, it gives me the ability the laugh at my insecurities and get on with my day.   And for those who say you are what you eat, then I’m colorful, sweet and packed with 8 essential vitamins and minerals.   So if you still think I’m incapable of handling life’s challenges… Eat me.

Celebrating Suicide Prevention Day – Don’t Forget Your Noisemakers   Leave a comment

Today I learned that September 10th is Suicide Prevention Day.   What struck me is the ridiculous nature of it.  November 22nd is the big National Smoke Out when everyone is supposed to give up cigarettes.  The line of reasoning makes perfect sense.  You’re a smoker, so you try to quit.  Most people know you’re a smoker so they rally around you offering support and stupid suggestions to help get you over the hump.  And the smoker has something positive to work toward, like not smelling like an ashtray and being able to breathe without their lungs sounding like two paper bags crumpling inside their chest.

But Suicide Prevention Day?  First of all, most people do not know you are suicidal nor do you want to let them in on the secret.  So who is going to rally around you?  Is your psychologist going to spend the day at your house having a barbecue?  Instead of throwing out your Marlboro Reds, do you pitch the gun you were going to use to shoot yourself in the head?  Is Suicide Prevention Day when you take an oath not to be in a suicidal depression, like it is something you have control over?  Are the people who do know your tenuous mental state going to give you little tips like; “don’t drive over any bridges, have your landlord mete out your daily medication and not a pill more, or, check into the mental wing of your local hospital for the day?”

Or, is Suicide Prevention Day intended for the general public to prevent suicides.  For instance, does the Suicide Hotline start making outgoing calls to people checking in to see if they are planning on killing themselves that day?  Maybe focus on Kentucky whose official motto is “Come to a State of Depression?”  Are people going to police roof tops, bridge railings and hardware stores that are selling an unusual amount of rope?  Will they lock up US Postal Service employees for the day so people with a death wish won’t antagonize them hoping to be shot by a lunatic mail carrier?

Why do we have to have a special day for suicide prevention.?  Shouldn’t every day be a day focused on keeping people from killing themselves?  Personally I do not think the general public has enough education on mental illness to know how to spot the danger signs of severe depression and suicidal behavior.  We all know the signs of a heart attack or stroke.  Everyone knows the signs of the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease.  But how many people know the danger signals of a severely depressed person about to commit suicide?  Or, an individual who may appear perfectly happy who is actually dropping little cues that things are amiss and are going to snuggle up that evening for the last time with a .45 Caliber automatic pistol?

And, as I’ve discussed at length in my blog A Tisket.  A Tasket.  I’ll Decide When I Want to Get In My Casket, why should all suicides be prevented?  Some people have suffered enough, have been through the medication meat grinder and legitimately see no hope of recovery, so have decided to relieve themselves of their earthly burdens.  Who are you or I to say they do not have that right?  Suicide is not bad word.  It simply means “killing ones self.”  It doesn’t mean “killing yourself because you’re a loser and can’t make it in life-like everyone else.”  It also doesn’t mean “cop-out,”  unless you are a corrupt cop and you really want out.  It’s just a noun.

What happens after Suicide Prevention Day?  Everyone can relax and it’s ok to kill yourself?  People can let down their guard and stop being vigilant about being more in tune with the people around them ?  The kid on the other end of the Suicide Hotline can go back to playing video games on his i-Phone and intermittently tell the suicidal caller “it can’t be that bad.”

This September 10th I am going to make a conscious effort that everyone I meet knows it’s Suicide Prevention Day and ask what they are doing to celebrate the occasion.  I think it should be a big party because if everyone is happy, nobody will want to kill themselves.  So if I happen to see anyone depressed and out of sorts, I’m going to reprimand them for not being in the spirit of the day.  The last thing I want is for somebody to see a depressed person.   That’s why every city and town across America should have parades of depressed people from hospital mental wards on pill bottle-shaped floats going down good ole main street waiving at the crowds with songs from the late Elliot Smith blasting out of huge loud speakers.

I can see it now spawning a new American classic movie called “Depressed on the Tenth of September.”  Tom Cruise can play a guy who tried to cut his wrists and spent two years in a mental hospital in Vietnam.  Now he has come home to a world of happy chucklehead backslappers telling him to “snap out of it.”  But all he wants to do is hang around with his mental ward buddies and give each other electro-shock treatments until they all pass out in their wheel chairs and piss themselves.

Just do me one favor;  Don’t make September 10th the only day you take the time to ask a friend who seems a little down how they are doing.  That might be the question that saves their life.  Now don’t forget your noisemakers.

Sex and Psychotropic Side Effects   Leave a comment

I’ll never forget my Dad and I taking a long walk when I was twelve years old.  It was longest walk of my life.  Not because of the distance, it was the subject matter discussed that made it seem like it would never end.  It was his big “sex talk,” where my father proceeded to tell me most of the things I already knew only in more clinical terminology.  And every time I tried to make a joke to lighten things up, he’d smack me in the head.  And when he told me things about my Mom I didn’t want to know, I wanted him to smack me in the head again to knock the disgusting image out of my mind.

Well now it’s time to have my sex talk with you.  However, it’s going to have a little twist; I’ll be talking about the side effects antidepressants and mood stabilizers have on many people’s sexual performance and enjoyment, or lack thereof.   It’s the one side effect from psychotropic medications used to treat Bipolar Disorder that everybody wants to talk about but nobody wants to talk about simultaneously.  So I’ll spare everyone the embarrassment and put myself out there, because whenever I mention it in a blog, I get the most responses and inquiries.  Obviously it’s a major concern.

Many antidepressants and mood stabilizers diminish sexual sensation, gratification, performance and sometimes the ability to even participate at all.   It’s a consequence for men and women, obviously manifesting itself differently between the sexes because men have penises and women have vaginas.  I’ll speak from my experiences and try to offer some solutions that don’t involve leaches or blood letting.

The sexual side effects of psychotropics on men can be devastating.  A lot of them depend on the drug(s) you are taking.  I have taken many.  Personally I have been through not being able to get an erection, no matter how much my partner or I feverishly worked, occasionally producing a soft orgasm at the very end,  just to mock me.  Through it all the lack of sensation in the penis is greatly muted.  Your mind is sexually charged but your penis doesn’t want to party.  It feels like it’s wrapped in a thick wool blanket killing all sensitivity.

If a man can achieve an erection, the sensation can be so muffled that it takes forever to have an ejaculation.  Finally when you do, you barely feel a modicum of pleasure.  Enough to wonder “why bother?”  It is literally as pleasurable as going pee.   Again, your mind wants to have sex, but you have the libido of a dead Mexican rumba dancer. Plus, you have to force penile stimulation, which is counterintuitive.  If you achieve an erection, it is like trying to walk into a hurricane.

Unbelievably, some drugs will let you fight the good fight until you can get and maintain an erection.  Then you “anti-climax” with a dry ejaculation.  Absolutely no semen emerges, nor does it feel very good.  This is the ultimate emasculating effect of Bipolar medication.   It’s only good for people with hand-washing obsessive compulsive behavior because there is nothing to clean up.

The best overall description of how psychotropics can effect sex drive, and maybe only guys can get this, is that physical charge you get starting in the pit of your stomach when you are really excited.  When you are super attracted to your partner and know you are going to have a big orgasm almost just by looking at them.  With antidepressants and mood stabilizers it’s very difficult to get that electrical current to radiate throughout your body.

When discussing what psychotropics do to women, I have to go with what Bipolar sexual partners and friends have told me.  Virtually all experience a diminished sex drive with desensitized genitalia.   But what I hear most is that it’s almost impossible for them to achieve an orgasm.  I have tried over and over to patiently orally stimulate a Bipolar girlfriend and she just couldn’t get “over the mountain.”  It’s even more difficult through traditional intercourse.  Women experiencing psychotropic sexual side effects need intense clitoral stimulation for a long period of time if they are interested in sex at all.  And, many can only reach orgasm with the help of sexual aids that vibrate alone or in conjunction with their partner.  Many times the man feels very inadequate when the woman is forced to introduce  appliances in boudoir.

So what’s a penis and vagina to do?  Can you imagine if a “normal” man or woman started facing these sexual dysfunction issues?  They’d be beside themselves calling their urologist or gynecologist on the golf course in an utter state of panic.  “Doctor, I think my penis is dying.  Is this what happens before it shrivels up and falls off?”  Or, “Doctor, my vagina has a severe loss of sensitivity.  Is this a sign I’m turning into a bitter old spinster with no interest in men?”

If you are experiencing these sexual side effects, “what can you do about them?” is your next question.  Right now there is not a lot medically you can accomplish.  But before you scream in anguish, there are things that do work, you just may not hear about them from your doctor.  As far as pills go, you can ask your doctor to switch your medication(s) to something that may have less or no sexual side effects.  And this does work for some people.  It helped me to a noticeable degree.  However I was also once prescribed Yohimbine, which is some kind of plant extract.  The only thing that gave me was false hope.

Another medical option is just for men; Viagra, Cialis or other erectile aids.  I have not heard from any Bipolar men that they are the solution to getting and maintaining an erection.  I was prescribed Viagra and it did very little.  I also tried taking three times the recommended dose with wanton abandon for having an erection lasting more than four hours and having to go to the hospital, as they warn in the commercial.  I actually would have loved having that problem.  I’d be proud to be wheeled in on a stretcher with the sheets at my midriff noticeably aloft. But nothing. However everyone is different.

Women, I have heard that taking anti-histamines can help produce heightened sensation and lead to orgasm.  This is an off-label use of these over the counter drugs and in no way am I recommending it.  But I’ve heard it works for some.  Since I don’t have female organs, I have no idea why.  I haven’t seen any Bipolar women trying to catch colds or delighted to have allergies either.

A non-medication related solution requires you to change your sexual habits.  For a man or woman with this problem, you need to set the mood.  Just don’t jump into bed.  Have a romantic dinner.  Wear provocative lingerie if you’re a woman.  If you’re a guy, take a goddamn bath.  Have a candle-light dinner.  Talk dirty.  Watch some porn.  Tease one another.  Engage in each others fetishes.  Just do things to raise the level of excitement before you move forward with actual sex.  There is something to be said for mind over matter.

Also, do not drink alcohol before sex.  Medical evidence shows that it decreases the man’s ability to get and maintain an erection and for a woman to fully lubricate and reach orgasm.  Most people know this by having learned the hard way.  If you haven’t, any college student can validate my advice.  Just coupling alcohol with psychotropics could produce negative results unrelated to sex.

The big controversial possible solution is smoking marijuana before sex.  For me it heightens my arousal, increases my sensitivity and enjoyment of  an orgasm.  Some women report increased sensitivity and stimulation as well.  However, pot isn’t like buying a prescription, even when getting it legally from a California Dispensary.  Every “grow” has a different potency no matter how accurate the growers try to be with their various strains.  Plus, different people have different tolerances.  So you have to do a lot of experimentation.  And you don’t want to get so stoned you forget you’re having sex and drift off to slumber.

Exercise is one thing I am positive helps on the sex front.  A vigorous workout gets the blood pumping through all your organs.  When I am done running I almost always have an increased libido.  Better yet, I have less trouble achieving an erection, which is actually a function of getting blood flow to my penis,  a direct result of aerobic exercise.  Furthermore, it makes my orgasm much more forceful and enjoyable.  I have heard of similar sexual benefits regarding exercise from women.  But it has to be activity that really increases and sustains your heart rate for at least a half hour.

Finally, be conscious of when you take your medication.  I found if I take mine too close to having sexual activity, I can not perform well.  But if I wait several hours I can do better.  I realize it can ruin spontaneity, but so can a soft penis or dry ejaculation.

The reason I wrote this blog is so people with bipolar Disorder experiencing these embarrassing sexual side effects from antidepressants and mood-stabilizers know they are not alone.  There are a lot of us out there who have spent years making excuses to sex partners why we can not be adequately stimulated, fully enjoy sex or even perform in the first place.  Do not give up on a solution.  This can be overcome.  It requires patience and willingness to experiment.  And the great thing about our bodies is that we can even experiment on ourselves!

If anyone ever tells you there is more to life than sex, they are right.  However sex is one of the few benefits about having a  human body.  Our bodies are constantly causing us sickness, inconveniences, ailments, embarrassing situations and in this case mental illness.  Everybody, especially people with Bipolar Disorder, deserves sexual pleasure.  It’s free, it feels great and it’s good for you.  Don’t deny yourself.  Apply yourself.

A Tisket. A Tasket. Let Me Decide When I Want to Get in My Casket.   Leave a comment

Suicide.  A dirty word.  Taboo.  Something so bad that it’s against state and federal law.  I find that kind of funny.  If you do commit suicide, how are they going to punish you?  Put your corpse in prison for twenty-five to life?   Make you do one-hundred hours of community service as a speed bump?  Statistically, it’s actually a good thing.  It has a 0% recidivism rate.

Of course we all know why suicide is illegal.  The illogic is mostly based in Christianity, as is much of the foundation of our country and it’s laws.  And don’t get me wrong, I agree it’s wrong to murder, steal, rape and all of those other horrible transgressions against others.  I’m not even fond of coveting another’s wife, although I’ve been tempted.  But suicide is illegal because Christianity is, as are other western religions, afraid of the unknown.  Religion makes people less afraid.  God will take care of them in death as in life.  God is good.  We even say how much we trust him on our national paper currency.  But if you take your own life, God is going to be really pissed.  So our largely faith-based society made suicide illegal.  Life and death are God’s decision.  Unless you are sentenced to death for a crime.  Then it’s back in the government’s hands.

What nobody ever accounts for is the individual.  A person does not ask to be born.  Personally, I don’t remember giving my permission to be ripped out of a vagina, smacked on the back until I started screaming and live with Bipolar II and a visual impairment for the rest of my life.  So why is it illegal for me to terminate my life when I see fit?  If someone is on life support it’s acceptable to pull the plug if their quality of life will never surpass a vegetative state.   However I can not pull the trigger if my life has been nothing but depression and misery and all I can do is lie in bed like a rotten turnip?

If you are Bipolar and in severe depression, the phrase “snap out of it” is probably the most ignorant thing a person can say.  And if you are suicidal, “things aren’t that bad” are the words that put them on the fast track for stepping in front of the five o’clock commuter train.  Notice this popular nomenclature doesn’t put the emphasis on how you actually feel.  Just once I’d like to hear someone tell a suicidal person the truth.  “I can see why you want to kill yourself.  I think if I were in your situation I might want to do the same.”  Has anyone ever considered being genuine?  Would you tell a double leg amputee dragging their torso around like a snail that it is more fun than walking?

A lot of Bipolar people I know tell me they think of suicide every day.  This doesn’t mean they are suicidal, but the thought is always in their mind.  Others are in a constant holding pattern waiting for clearance from the tower;  the incident to throw them over the edge… When the depression gets so bad that they can’t take one more second of consciousness with the possibility of waking up.

For me suicide is my safety valve.  Something I know is always there when I’ve had enough.  It doesn’t mean I walk around with a pocket full of sleeping pills.  I just know I can always stop my car on the Golden Gate Bridge and do a swan dive over the edge if it gets to that point.  And just knowing I have the option helps me cope with life.  I think the original astronauts carried cyanide into space in case they ran into some other worldly beings that were going to cause them great harm.  Why can’t those who suffer from a lifetime of deep depression be offered the same compassion?

I leave you with this, figuratively and not literally. As a forty-six year old Bipolar II man I know what it is to suffer deep depression my entire life, smattered with bouts of mania where I do things that only increase my despair.  Those who condemn suicide either don’t understand what it is to spend a lifetime of debilitating depression and the havoc which ensues, or, they are projecting their fear of death on others.  Either way they are focusing on themselves and not the individual.

Suicide is a crime that will forever be broken.  So for all those who are going to kill themselves today, may you get the relief from the suffering you so sorely desire.  I hope your last decision was the best you ever made.  And for those still suffering who decide to stay with us for however long you wish to go on,  all I can offer is to share my mantra:  A tisket.  A tasket.  Let me decide when I want to get in my casket.

Mental Illness Mother Goose   Leave a comment

It was around 1pm this past Saturday night.  All the bars were starting to close on Haight Street in San Francisco.  After drinking probably more beer than I should, I had to pee very badly.  Recently when the urge hits me, I have to go with the urgency of a Hungarian plow mule.  I was having a miserable time with the woman I was curating, partially because she was wearing a ridiculous disguise dressed as a man and also was combative about everything I said.  So when we got outside I told her I was going to have a problem if I didn’t pee, cut across the street to a dark vestibule and discretely took care of business.  When I turned back around she was gone.  I felt relieved in more ways than one. And, I inadvertently joined the ranks of millions who urinated in the doorways and alleys of the Haight Ashbury section of San Francisco since the mid 1960’s.

Who was this girl and why was I out with her?  She had a made up name and lived in a world with one toe in reality and the rest in a world of constant conflict.  I met her at a party my roommate threw in a rare instance without her disguise.   But I quickly learned about the man trying to break into her apartment wanting to murder her, the detective telling her to be vigilant and paranoid, the barricading of herself for weeks at a time inside her apartment,  not being able to maintain friendships, her confrontational nature and distrust of everyone.  On top of it all she was a self-proclaimed clairvoyant and you could not ask her questions about herself without provoking her wrath.  Not even what she does or doesn’t do for a living.

But she read my book Buzzkill and I know some of my Bipolar trials and tribulations touched her in a “better him than me” kind of way.   And she took joy in speaking with me about my hospitalizations and medications as it made her feel like she escaped getting caught in a bear trap and was free to slink around Nottingham Woods.  Maybe occasionally even pop up to the highway and nibble on some fresh road kill.

It is very clear she has a serious disorder that affects her perception of reality making her extremely combative and afraid.  And I was informed by others that she constantly spoke of my issues with Bipolar illness taken from my book ad-infinitum trying to rally support for her theory that I was a danger to society.   Up until then I didn’t realize my blogs were that bad.

So why in the world did I go out with her?  Because she asked me to.  And I had this ridiculous notion maybe I could convince her to trust me and get her some help.  Underneath the baseball hat, sunglasses at night and ill fitting mens clothing was hidden a very attractive smart woman.   I decided not to take her behavior personally and get her to at least entertain the idea I could be of assistance.  Maybe get her to a doctor for an evaluation.  Visit her in the hospital, because for sure she would be admitted. Probably by ambulance with flashing lights and a police escort while strapped to a gurney.

However the evening was a bust.  Everything I said caused nonsensical argumentative responses.  It became very evident she was experiencing a different reality than  I.  And, that I couldn’t just simply reason with her, nor could she comprehend reality, was bewildering.  The sad part is she was convinced of being the only sane person in the room. However I started to feel anger from the cumulative effect of all the abuse I had taken that evening.  I was reprimanded for complimenting her on her jewelry, her disguise, commenting on the bad service at a wine bar and on and on.

Bipolar people do not live in a separate reality from the rest of the world. Sometimes we have trouble dealing with the existing reality, but it’s the same as everyone else’s.  Our lives are spent constantly striving to negotiate it as best we can.  And because we have had our deep depressions, unbearable anxieties, visits to the psyche ward and times of great despair, we try and “mother goose” others we see in trouble.  But when the mind has an altered reality, a few kind words and some insight can’t make it right.   It’s like the sun.  You can protect yourself with sunscreen or sitting under an umbrella, but you can’t make it stop burning.

Sadly, as of last night, this woman was still texting me about the night before, amending it with details I’m sure she thinks are accurate.  And I had to realize I can not help and told her to go back into Nottingham Woods because if she continued to harass me I’d call the big bear with the straight jacket and 51/50 paperwork.

I can not fix this one.   Was it my mania making me think I could?  Is it even my responsibility?  If someone is shooting at you do you walk into the line of fire to tell them to stop, or do you take refuge somewhere safe until they run out of bullets?  This woman never even stops to reload.

In some morbid way it was interesting getting to know an individual crazier than myself.   It’s like being a rubbernecker passing a really bad car accident.  You know it’s wrong to look, but you just can’t help yourself.  And then when you see the bloody carnage, you beat yourself up because you can’t get the image out of your head.

The Bipolar Break Up Blog   Leave a comment

MBA Speak: There has been a lot of spin about whether or not it’s ethical to break up with a mentally ill partner, and if so, what is best practice? What wasn’t noodled on was now that  I’ve drank the Kool Aid and walked over the hot coals, what’s my end game?

Translation:  I decided from all I read it was appropriate to break up with my fiancee.  I did so slowly and hopefully as compassionately as possible, although I did have my moments of anger.  But now that it’s done, how will I get on with my life?

I don’t think it’s possible to flick a switch and just stop loving somebody.  Even with all the anger I felt during our relationship, love existed simultaneously.   These two emotions are not exclusive to one another.   You can hate long car rides but still love your car.  And being Bipolar, I have all the inherent second guessing as to whether she could have changed, did I do enough to help, should I have gotten her family involved and most hauntingly, how would I feel if the tables were turned and she left broken-Bipolar me?

The hardest part is that we could get back together.  I miss her voice, her softness, her face and her smell.  If she would have me I’d rush back into her arms.  And she might feel the same way.  The depression borne from my yearning for her touch could be easily cured by re-establishing that connection.

But intellectually, I know it is the wrong thing to do.  I have to reach into my Bipolar brain and press the “override” button because reverting to what is comfortable won’t be that way for long.  And, I will have negated all the strength I summoned from the depths of my tortured soul to leave and actually make the break.  Plus, going back to status quo wouldn’t be doing her any favors either.  Maybe me leaving will cause her to finally get help for the issues she has been shoveling under the rug displacing all those poor little turds for years.

However the hard part is yet to come.  I know we will run into each other.  What if she is with another guy?  What if they are kissing and holding hands?  What if they are feeling each other up right in front of me?  What if they are having lude sex before my very eyes on a sushi bar?  Am I getting ridiculous?  Welcome to my head where anything is possible, no matter how implausible.  Where just seeing her standing alone in a supermarket with a schemata on her head will invoke hiddeous jealousy.

There is only one mainstream catch all phrase that actually applies to this, and don’t worry, it’s not “snap out of it.”  It’s that “time heals all wounds.”  I truly do believe time does make a difference because a person can get used to a new reality.  However there is another part of that phrase that is often left out.  It’s “time heals all wounds, but wounds can leave nasty scars.”  But a nasty scar is a lot better than having your ex-fiancee’s name tattooed across your chest.

Is It Your Bipolar Disease or Mine?   Leave a comment

This is going to be a personal blog.  That’s why I am putting it online.  So nobody can read it.  Actually, it’s a blog about something in my life I’ve had to come to terms with, but I think it has relevance to others who have a story to tell about their experiences with Bipolar Disease.

Earlier this year I published my first book entitled Buzzkill.  It’s the story of my very disorderly struggle with Bipolar Disorder.  I tried to write it a year or two earlier and it just wasn’t working.  There was no flow nor was it the least bit compelling.  Kind of like a Daniel Steele novel.  And then one day it hit me;  I wasn’t being true to myself or potential readers.  To really tell the tale, I had to rip open my entire life with a scalpel, gut it and lay the steaming innards out on a stainless steel coroner’s table in their full rancid glory for all to read.   And when I began writing and started feeling embarrassed and uncomfortable with my prose, I knew I had begun writing the book I intended. Then the words began to flow like hot molten lava from a big dormant volcano that waited 45 years to blow its load.

Buzzkill is about my lifelong struggle with depression, mania, hypomania, suicidal attempts, hospitalizations, medications and all of the situations that arose from my erratic behavior.  Among other things, I talk about the sexual side effects from anti-depressants leaving me with absolutely no sensation in my genitals, the humiliation of being in a locked mental ward, the shrinks who almost killed me and the times I tried to kill myself.  I described wild manic buying sprees and the financial disasters that ensued along with mismatched lovers and relationships gone terribly awry.  The bottom line is that no matter how humiliating, I made it real for my readers.  I wanted to reach inside them, grab hold of their most traumatic embarrassing Bipolar experiences and say, “It’s all right.  Me too friend.”

Here in lies the problem; Nobody lives in a vacuum.  Other people were part of my life experience.  Parents, friends, doctors… They all played a role in my life.  Some of them had their own issues and were antagonists.  Some were protagonists.  And, certain characters were neither good or bad, just too damn interesting to leave out.  However you could not understand my life without discussing their lives.  Many of these people will not appreciate my portrayal of them, regardless of its truthfulness.   They will develop tunnel vision and see Buzzkill as a book all about them.  They will gloss right over the parts where I’m sitting in an emergency room being forced to drink charcoal and throwing it up all over myself.  Or, getting physically thrown out of a classroom in third grade as I was unable to control my emotional outbursts.  All that matters is I wrote “they had a nagging voice like a goat.”

No matter how big of an earthquake ensues, I told my story as it happened to me.  I make no apologies.  If I censored myself Buzzkill wouldn’t be the book I intended and certainly not worth reading.  Nobody wants to read another 300 pages of watered down drivel about coping with Bipolar Illness written by some Phd. with a pipe stuck up his ass.

The lesson learned is that we all have to be true to ourselves as Bipolar individuals.  It’s our duty to tell our stories so we can help others like us feel more comfortable with their challenges.  We can not hold back because we are afraid of the truth starting an uncontrollable wildfire.  We do not start the fires, it’s the people with blinders on who don’t want to see the truth that slash and burn.  And if you are not up to telling your story, that’s ok too.  Not everyone is required to walk on the hot coals.  Because I don’t care what anyone says, no matter how righteous of a person you are, they still burn the shit out of your feet.

Am I Obese Or Is It Just In My Mind?   Leave a comment

The other day I saw a grossly overweight woman trying to get a place in the check-out line at the supermarket.  People were jumping in front of her because they assumed she moved slowly.  It seemed like they were thinking, “She’s fat and will slow me down in the if I get behind her.”  This really bothered me.  The cashier checks you out, not the customer.  How could this woman have slowed down the check out process due to her weight?  It was simply insulting and taking advantage of someone because of the way they look.

This upset me on several different levels.  One, just because I hate seeing human beings being cruel to each another.  Mankind has enough hardships without creating more on our own accord.  That woman may not have shown it, but I’m sure in some way it made her feel like less of a person.  It made me want to cry.  Second, I have been in her position before, convinced I was grossly overweight and horrid at which to look.  I know what it feels like to have people laugh and disrespect my slovenly appearance.  I have been the Elephant Man.

In my teens and early twenties I simply could not understand overweight people.  I’d see them lumbering around town, guts hanging over their belts, flabby legs stuffed into their pants, shirts so tight they’re about to pop buttons, arms too chubby to fully rest at their sides, double and triple chins plus whatever else goes along with obesity.  And they’d be huffing and puffing up even the slightest inclines.  You just knew they were stuffing their faces with delicasies like sausage colachies, pizza with cheese baked into the crust, deep fried chicken tacos, milkshakes, ice cream by the barrel and 64 oz. bottles of soda to wash it all down.

And although I would not overtly make fun of them, I’d always think “how could they let themselves deteriorate like that?”  I don’t always feel like working out, but I force myself.  I’d rather have a super-burrito, but I make myself eat salad.  But these people have no self-discipline.  They deserve to be fat.  They should have to buy two airplane seats when they fly.  They wanna be pigs, let them pay for it.

Then one day I started to see myself as fat. My depression had gotten so bad I couldn’t get out of bed to exercise and eating was one of the few things that brought me pleasure.  I began to feel very out of shape and eventually literally saw myself as severely obese.   When I walked around I felt people were making fun of my big bobbling butt, hanging turkey gizzard of a neck and protruding stomach.  My self worth was in the gutter.  I was convinced of being the most unattractive person in the world.

Finally I got on the right medications for my Bipolar II.  And as I starting feeling better psycologically, I ceased seeing myself in the distorted image of a fat man anymore.  But it opened my mind to the depression the obese must face every day.  In my mind I felt the stares, jokes, rudeness and disrespect overweight people absorb on a daily basis.  I understood what it was like to be trapped in a body you hate with the seemingly insurmountable task of losing a significant amount of weight.  I experienced the depression that comes with thinking about all this plus the fact I may never find someone to love and accept me.

The average person does not understand obesity.  However I think being Bipolar gives special insight to obese trials and tribulations.  Many of us have been severely depressed.  Too down to exercise, the inactivity of constantly sleeping and not eating right causing Body Dysmorphic Disorder.  This is when you see your body as something other than it is.  And, you do not see it in a positive light.  Depressed and inactive, many Bipolars seriously view themselves as overweight and unattractive.  This is literally what they see when they look in the mirror.  It’s what I saw before I was on anti-depressants.

At one point I actually did start gaining weight due to a side effect of the medications I was taking.  However because I felt better mentally, I was motivated to eat right and work out extra hard to keep most of it off.  But the terror that comes with thinking you might blow up like a parade float is incredibly debilitating.  Depressing enough to make you want to stop taking your medication.  And many Bipolars would rather have Bipolar depression than be depressed about their weight and body image.

I do not look at obese people the same way anymore.  First of all, I refer to them as overweight, big, obese or large.  And I never fault them for being in that condition.  Many times it’s genetic and has nothing to do with exercise and diet.  Certain people are just large.  For others the idea of having to lose a massive quantity of weight is so ominous they become paralyzed.  Or, some individuals need a trainer to ride them, because they don’t have the self-discipline to do it on their own.  Of course there are still some people out there where in their mind food trumps weight and they don’t have a problem with their size.  I admire them for being happy with who they are.

I feel as Bipolars we have been given a gift to better understand what it’s like for these overweight individuals.  We understand the debilitating depression and other psychological obstacles that make change seem daunting or even unattainable. Since we have to take medications which have side-effects changing our bodies and curtailing certain of our abilities, Bipolar people understand what it’s like to be trapped inside of ourselves.

Overall I believe most obesce people are not happy with their self image and are likely to suffer from some degree of depression over things they can not do or have.  Moreover, in at least one aspect they have it worse than those afflicted with Bipolar Illness… You can not tell when someone is Bipolar because it all happens on the inside.  Unfortunately, overweight people have to wear their problem on the outside for the whole world to see.  I think it’s our duty as Bipolar sufferers to look past the body at the person inside.  We can not expect kindness and understanding from the non-afflicted if we don’t show the same compassion toward others in need.

Bipolar Support Groups: What are they Supporting?   Leave a comment

A few years ago I was a mess.  Diagnosed Bipolar II with hypomanic episodes and freshly divorced, I was living with my girlfriend, one dog, a cat and her two little girls all in my tiny studio apartment in San Francisco.  Plus, my girlfriend had an ex-husband that would practically scale the side of my apartment hi-rise like a little lobster to the seventh floor looking in on us for incriminating evidence he could use against her in divorce court.

I was already seeing a psychiatrist for my medications and a psychologist for talk therapy.  But the latter felt I was suicidal and needed more support.  It was either go to group therapy or resign me as a client.  I agreed because whenever I was a little late for an appointment she started calling hospitals to see if I was on a metal table a toe tag.  Personally I thought hearing about other people’s problems would depress the pants of me.  However she was adement, so I went out of respect for all the good she had done for me in the past.

I began my group odyssey on a Saturday afternoon in a session held in the basement of a local hospital.  Right away I was greeted by an older, portly, belly sticking out of sweater, thick plastic bespectacled gentleman who would later introduce himself to me at least five more times in the next hour and a half.  I got past him and sat on a chair arranged in a big circle.  I was one of the first people to arrive aside from the facilitator.

The facilitator was not a professional and had no therapy credentials.  He was just a guy in his mid 30’s with severe depression and an uncontrollable inclination to insult strangers he sees out on the street.  Bloated from medication, too much cake and a crew cut that should have come with a complimentary pair of Dennis the Menace pavement sliders, he would read the meeting ground rules as if every syllable bored him more than the last.  Then he’d make sure anyone who wanted to talk had their ten allocated minutes.  And if anyone ever got out of line, he’d ask them to leave. But you could tell cake was his main concern.  Coffee cake, pound cake, walnut cake, angel food cake… Ah, so many wonderful cakes!

Quickly the empty seats filled up with what I assumed were bipolar butts.  But to my surprise almost anyone could sit down and chime in.  And some of the regulars were schizophrenic or had other major psychological disorders.  And when they started talking delusionally, everyone would get mad at them for wasting time and tell them to shut up.   I thought it might be a good idea to get them information about the appropriate group therapy session for their mental disorder, but the moderator just sat there with his thumb up his ass dreaming about the way sponge cake feels when rubbed all over his body.

Here is a snapshot of the Bipolar Support Group’s composure:

We had a delightful gentleman in at the ripe age of 90 who came to talk about his older sister.  He was just lonely and frightened of what life held for him.  He could have been sitting in Knitters Anonymous and be just as content.  But he was too nice a person suggest attending a different meeting.

We had a young school teacher on medical leave, afraid to return to the classroom due to severe panic attacks. It was obvious she was bright and communicative.  I felt her anxiety could be overcome with some exposure and talk therapy.  However, practically everyone united to convince heron permanent disability was the way to go.  To about half the group of around twenty people, the question wasn’t if you could go back to work, it was whether you could qualify for permanent disability.  The consensus was she could make a good case for it.

One lady was never formally diagnosed with anything, but liked making the coffee shop arrangements for after the meeting.  She was a mental illness groupie.  She would latch on to a really sick person and become their sole support system.  And when no longer needed, or getting on that person’s nerves, she’d find a new lost soul in the group to mother.  I think she had a disease called munchausen-bipolar.  She found self worth making herself part of the drama centered around a bipolar person going through hardship.

Then there was a 350 pound woman who was sweet on the outside and a trouble maker on the inside thriving on confrontation.  Once she brought a very old little dog to the group that was literally on it’s last leg.  She was bald, blind, barely able to walk and fighting for breath from fluid filled lungs. This woman walked it around the circle basking in the “isn’t she adorables.”  But the dog was so close to death it was like bringing a dead bird to the meeting.  It was probably a blessing, but the little dog died that evening.

My favorite was a woman who complained of Personality Dissociative Disorder, so she sat with a mirror in front of her reminding herself she was still there.  She never talked.  All she did was stare into the mirror.  I wanted to say, “Put away the mirror.  I’ll let you know if you disappear.”

Finally was the lady with a greenish abscessed toe bursting out of her shoe who always wasted half the session talking about free theatre tickets she can get through an agency that donates them to non-profits.  But that infected toe was like a gargoyle that encouraged me to keep my distance from her.

My last example of the misplaced mentally ill was my greeter.  He would sleep through most of the session and suddenly awaken with a random suggestion, like how to get free pencils from the city.  Apparently he noticed someone writing with one in a notebook and felt it would be helpful knowledge.  Then his head would drop and he’d be back to slumberland in no time.

Basically out of an average of twenty people, two of them talked about real bipolar issues the first time I attended.  The rest would just give advice on how to get permanent disability, free psychiatric care and medications.  Others were there for the coffee shop get-together after each session.  It was more a place to socialize for the generally mentally ill and senile.

Not all bipolar support groups are the same.  I am sure there are some with a better illness vetting process and accredited facilitators who actually lead the group instead of waiting for it to implode.  My suggestion is to learn more about all the Bipolar Support Groups in your area and sit in on several.   Note others in the group looking for a feeling of commonality of mental disorder, age and education.  In other words, find a support group in which you feel comfortable sharing.  With support groups it’s the people attending the group who are most important. They are the ones offering advice and comfort.  It’s crucial you find people you can relate to.

That teacher with the anxiety disorder did eventually go back to work full time and the last I heard is doing quite well.  When asking someone what gave her the confidence to go back to teaching, she told me it was leaving  the support group.   If support groups were on Yelp, what a story she’d have to tell.

Medication and Mixed Marriages   Leave a comment

I should have been happy, but she was driving me insane.  I almost had to ask my psychiatrist to add a sixth medication to my cocktail so I wouldn’t strangle my wife.  “Did you take your pills?  When did you take them?  Are you sure you took the right dose?  Lets double-check.”  At one point she even took to counting my pills out for me.  My word meant nothing.

You see, I was in a mixed marriage.  I am Bipolar II but the woman I married was sane.  However, after watching me suffer through two severe depressions ending in hospitalizations, several bouts with exhaustive mania, which usually included me buying a new car, a Swiss watch, jewelry, or all of the above, she became vigilant about me taking my medications.  To her this was the only thing she could do to ward off future episodes.  One time she even got the pills and walked them over to me like she was giving a dog a biscuit.  I was waiting for her to ask me to lift up my tongue proving I swallowed them like in the mental ward.

My wife had never experienced even a friendship with someone who was mentally ill until she met me.  And after we married I had my first major depressive episode, in which I overdosed on Lorazepam and washed them down with half a bottle of Seagrams Seven.  She was really rattled.  Watching the EMT’s accompanied by the San Francisco Police come into our apartment and load her semi-conscious husband into a waiting ambulance definitely made an impression on her.

Racially mixed marriages are easier even if you come from two different cultures.  You can experience each other’s heritage by eating favorite ethnic foods, listening to each other’s music, meeting the parents, seeing where you each grew up and getting to know one another’s friends.  But in this kind of mixed marriage, if you have Bipolar Disease, you can’t expect your sane spouse to climb into your head to experience your own private hell, have them take your medications so they can share the joys of shaky hands dumping hot coffee in their lap, have them cozy up to a schizophrenic roommate in a locked mental ward so they can see where you sometimes hang out and let them experience a manic episode culminating in a wild shopping spree, maxing out their credit cards putting themselves on the fast track to bankruptcy.

For this reason I think the chances of this type of mixed marriage working out are tenuous at best.  Lets say you are the sane one, and your spouse has Bipolar Disease.  At a certain point you are going to think they are lazy for sleeping too much.  And they are not much fun because they feel most comfortable at home away from noisy crowded restaurants and bars.  Plus they’re a total party-pooper because when the evening medication kicks in around ten PM, they are ready for bed.  Worst of all, they never want to have sex because their medication has sucked the horny right out of them.  I ask you, even if you know it’s the Bipolar Disease talking, how long can you put up with this type of in-patient lifestyle?  I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t say it would be difficult for me, even knowing what I know about Bipolar Disease.

My wife ended up asking for a divorce.  She said my Bipolar Disease wasn’t a factor, but I know it was.  I was hypomanic.  I couldn’t stand to be touched. I was self-medicating with alcohol and doing most of it outside the home in various neighborhood bars.  This is also when I first started my quarterly purchase of a new car.  And, I wasn’t keeping my wife informed regarding my medications.  Her involvement in my illness was no longer welcome.  I could not live in her world of vigilance and who in their right mind would want to live in mine of drunken insanity?

I often wonder what it would be like if two bipolar people tied the knot? No longer would it be a mixed marriage.  However, I can see it either turning out to be a wonderful understanding, loving relationship, or two people fighting like hillbillies in West Virginia over a pot of three-day old rabbit stew.  On one hand they can comfort one another because they know exactly what he or she is going through.  However, being on the receiving end of a manic episode, severe depression, bouts of agoraphobia, time-consuming OCD or whatever else your mate might have bundled in their bipolar profile, might be quite menacing.  Even if you have Bipolar Disease yourself, it doesn’t necessarily mean you can take it from somebody else.  Especially if you are making more progress than your spouse in recovery.  Then you might even harbor unwarranted feelings of anger, as if they are just living a life of slack.  You could inadvertently become a Bipolar Snob creating a hierarchy within the disease.

I am not suggesting people with Bipolar Disorder give up on the idea of mixed marriage.  I think it’s the people who make the marriage work, not simply a non-afflicted partner’s ability to tune out the scary stuff.  It’s more important that they face their partner’s bipolar idiosyncrasies and possible breakdowns with an aire of calmness.  My fiancee (I still hate that pretentious word) is not bipolar, but when I hit a rough patch she is the picture of cool.  She makes sure I am safe, provides comfort and allows me to ride it out.

My advice is when entering into a mixed marriage or serious relationship, make sure the non-afflicted partner knows and understands Bipolar Disease and how it manifests in your particular situation.  Prepare them for how to handle a bout of depression or mania.  Then if and when it happens, they won’t be surprised and will already have an appropriate plan of support.

I once dated a girl and we were really starting to like each other.  She told me her criteria for getting serious with a guy is that he lived on his own and had no mental issues.  I stood up from the couch and handed her her coat.  “Well, I guess we’re not going to work out because I’m bipolar.”  It really pissed me off because it’s a disease, not an acquired trait or born out of a personality flaw.

She must have really liked me because she gave me a pass.  But I never could get her comment out of my mind.  And I knew anything I did would be under close scrutiny for being a product of my mental illness.  So, it turned out I was not comfortable dating her.  So the last thing I will say is that when embarking on a mixed relationship or marriage, save yourself some heartache and find out how the object of your desire feels about mental illness before you get too serious.  You could save yourself a miserable trip down Bipolar Break-up Lane, where relationship are only as strong as your medication.